PUBLISHING AGENCIES - WITH ONE VOICE - Brand-owners can make savings and earn extra benefits from joint customer magazines, Karen Yates finds

By KAREN YATES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 05 February 1999 12:00AM

Take Ivor Wad and his sidekick, Russell Ofnotes, two execs on a trip to Milan. They booked their airline tickets by credit card and, on arrival, hired a car from an aggressive American outfit just opened in Europe. After a surprisingly successful meeting, the pair tumbled tired but happy into rooms booked in a mid-range hotel by the airport. They had hangovers in the morning.

Take Ivor Wad and his sidekick, Russell Ofnotes, two execs on a

trip to Milan. They booked their airline tickets by credit card and, on

arrival, hired a car from an aggressive American outfit just opened in

Europe. After a surprisingly successful meeting, the pair tumbled tired

but happy into rooms booked in a mid-range hotel by the airport. They

had hangovers in the morning.



The point of this tale is that each item purchased - credit card,

flight, car, hotel - had been marketed separately. So each of the buying

decisions was made separately. Wad used his credit card to book the

flights, which were located by Ofnotes’ secretary; they went to the car

hire company with the shortest queue at the airport; and found their

hotel through a directory. All of these services were targeting the same

people, yet they did not market together, except perhaps for the odd

cross-promotion.



It is exactly this type of situation that Stephen Quirke, the managing

director of Atom Publishing, is trying to improve. In contract

publishing, the big brands tend to create their own customer magazine,

while smaller brands are left out in the cold. Quirke and others reason

that companies talking to the similar audiences about complementary

brands could profitably get together a little bit more. If each supplier

believes that customer magazines are a useful tool, then why not

collaborate on a joint title?



The phenomenon is known as consortium publishing, and Quirke is one of

its keenest evangelists. A good quality, quarterly magazine costs a

minimum of pounds 100,000 a year, Quirke says, and even this princely

sum will buy only 32 pages, which is nowhere near the sumptuous feel

most brands want for their customer magazines. But, by teaming an

airline with other travel companies, or a fashion retailer with a shoe

chain, the costs can be spread and the pagination increased. When four

companies join together and each fund 32 pages, savings of around 20 per

cent can be made on pre-printing costs, so that they end up with a

128-page, high-quality magazine, Quirke says. Further, by pooling

distribution outlets, they can reach a wider audience: the hotel can

leave a copy of the magazine in each of its rooms; the airline on its

seats; and the car company in its glove compartments. And there can be

an added bonus if the partners pool their customer databases.



If it’s such an ideal solution, one might ask, why it hasn’t been done

before? The answer is that it has, to a degree. Consortium publishing

hit the headlines last year with a project, code-named Jigsaw, which

brought together Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and Cadbury Schweppes. All

three were facing ever stronger competition from major retailers’

own-label products, a problem made worse by the fact that the big

supermarket chains, through their loyalty card schemes, often knew more

about consumers than the big brands themselves. The big three initially

decided to pool resources in order to beef up their databases. Then,

last autumn, they decided to go a step further and commission the trial

of a joint consumer magazine.



The trial of three alternate magazines, organised by Consodata and

funded by ads bought by Jigsaw, was mailed to 150,000 people. The

response exceeded all expectations, insiders say, and the magazine is

expected to go live in March.



One long-running, jointly funded customer magazine is the successful The

London Magazine, run by a consortium of 40 London estate agents. When it

launched in 1991, a single full-page ad cost owner/advertisers pounds

1,600. Now, eight years later, the magazine has been so successful and

attracted so many outside advertisers that shareholders can get a page

for as little as pounds 750. More importantly, competitors such as

London Portrait and Boardroom have bitten the dust while The London

Magazine has increased its circulation.



Again, the agents banded together to form a single company, Clear, to

run the magazine. Purists might argue that this means it does not

qualify as a consortium publication, but it is certainly a joint effort.

Clear’s board of six, each representing a group of agents, makes the

decisions and its chairman, Ian Homersham, liaises with the magazine’s

publisher, Premier. ’It all works very well,’ Homersham declares. ’We

pretty much let Premier get on with their own editorial. My main job is

to referee which agent’s ads go where in the magazine.’



Bickering between co-owners about ad space seems to be the biggest

headache for contract publishers of jointly funded magazines. If four

different companies think they are running the show, then editorial - as

well as advertising - may be pulled in four directions. Quirke, of

course, has an answer: ’That’s no more than contract publishers go

through anyway,’ he retorts, ’I’ve been at meetings with 20 different

brand managers, each with their own point of view, and they all work for

the same company.



You just need to be a strong publisher and do what’s right for the

magazine.’



Kim Conchie, the managing director of Brass Tacks, agrees: ’Consortium

publishing can work but only with the right groups,’ he says. ’The

problem is that the brands really have to be right for each other. If

they aren’t, it won’t work.’



It’s a theme echoed by Jim Addison, the managing director of Specialist

Publishing: ’If the partners don’t really work together, but just press

on with their own agenda, the magazine could end up like a series of

press releases stapled together with a sexy cover. Consumers will notice

and they won’t read it.’



That aside, with little opposition to consortium publishing in the

industry, why aren’t more people doing it? ’Well,’ Addison suggests,

’with the growth rates we’ve got in the industry at the moment, there

isn’t the pressure for publishers to do it, is there?’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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